Army blamed after Egypt soccer clash kills 74
Cairo, February 2, 2012
Egypt's soccer fans and politicians turned on the ruling army for failing to prevent the deadly clash during a soccer match, in which 74 people were killed last night.
At least 1,000 people were injured in the violence on Wednesday when soccer fans staged a pitch invasion in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, even though local team Al-Masry beat visitors from Cairo, Al Ahli, Egypt's most successful club.
Angry politicians denounced the lack of security at the match and blamed military leaders for allowing, or even causing, the tragedy.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that dominates parliament, saw an 'invisible' hand at work. 'Down with military rule,' thousands of Egyptians chanted at the main Cairo train station where they met injured fans returning from what a minister said was the scene of Egypt's worst soccer disaster.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the state television building and marches across the capital were planned.
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 76, who heads the ruling military council, took an unusual step of speaking by telephone to a television channel, the sport broadcaster owned by Al Ahli club, vowing to track down the culprits. The army announced three days of national mourning.
But it did little to assuage the anger of fans, who, like many Egyptians, are furious that Egypt is still plagued by lawlessness and frequent bouts of deadly violence almost a year since Mubarak was driven out and replaced by an army council.
As with past flare-ups, it quickly turned political.
Parliament will hold an emergency session later on Thursday to discuss the violence.
'The people want the execution of the field marshal,' fans chanted at the station where some injured disembarked. 'We will secure their rights, or die like them,' they said of the dead, as covered bodies were unloaded from the trains.
The post-match pitch invasion provoked panic among the crowd as rival fans fought. Most of the deaths were among people who were trampled in the crush of the panicking crowd or who fell or were thrown from terraces, witnesses and health workers said.
Television footage showed some security officers in the stadium showing no sign of trying to stop the pitch invasion.
One officer was filmed as people poured onto the field, talking on a mobile phone.
Several enraged politicians and ordinary Egyptians accused officials who are still in their jobs after the fall of Mubarak of complicity in the tragedy, or at least of allowing a security vacuum that has let violence flourish in the past 12 months.
'The security forces did this or allowed it to happen. The men of Mubarak are still ruling. The head of the regime has fallen but all his men are still in their positions,' Albadry Farghali, a member of parliament for Port Said, screamed in a telephone call to live television.
Some saw the violence as orchestrated to target the 'Ultras', Al Ahli's dedicated fans whose experience confronting police at soccer matches was turned with devastating effect against Mubarak's heavy-handed security forces in the uprising.
They played a significant role in defending Cairo's Tahrir Square, the heart of the uprising against Mubarak, when men on camels and horses charged protesters last year. Thursday is the anniversary of the notorious February 2 camel charge.
The Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party won the biggest bloc in parliament, blamed an 'invisible' hand for causing the violence and said the authorities were negligent. 'We fear that some officers are punishing the people for their revolution and for depriving them of their ability to act as tyrants and restricting their privileges,' it added.
Others blamed 'thugs', the hired hands or plain clothes police officers in Mubarak's era who would often emerge from police lines to crush dissent to his rule.
'Unknown groups came between the fans and they were the ones that started the chaos. I was at the match and I saw that the group that did this is not from Port Said,' said Farouk Ibrahim. 'They were thugs, like the thugs the National Democratic Party used in elections,' he said, referring to Mubarak's former party and the polls that were routinely rigged in its favour. - Reuters